A video call isn't just about what you say, it is about how you look and move. You can entirely alter a person's impression of you simply by changing your behaviour. So says non-verbal communications expert Mark Bowden - a man who excels in going beyond conversation. He uses his appearance, from his arms to his eyes, to totally change the way the human brain reacts.
To test out his ideas, we had a chat with Bowden who had our brain doing somersaults by the time he was done. What we've been left with are some invaluable tips towards getting more from video calls, both from family and friends and in business. So, here's how to improve your video calls just by using body language.
Control your background
Before you even start your video call, it's important you think of exactly what your surroundings will look like from the other end of the line.
The conversation is all about you and you want to be able to control exactly how your image is conveyed. Start off on the right foot by removing all distractions from the background. No clutter, just you and a background. That way, the caller's brain can focus as closely as possible on chatting to you.
"It all distracts from the communication we are trying to have right now," explains Bowden. "Remove all distractions."
You can control your background to your advantage. A single object can convey a lot - a calendar, for example, will ensure you look busy, perfect for a business chat. The key thing is to keep it simple, as you want focus to be on body movements and conversation, nothing else.
Look into the camera
It might seem simple, but this one makes such a difference and is harder to keep up than you might think. When you video call, you have a tendency to stare at the other person's image on the screen. This results in you breaking eye contact with the person that you are speaking to.
Looking into the camera lens will give the caller the impression you are looking right at them. This is crucial in terms of the visual data that it offers to the caller. It helps them gain trust in you as well as give the impression that you are interested in what they have to say. Don't stare though, because that's unnatural and won't be of benefit.
"Look at where the lens is," says Bowden. "This should feel like better eye contact for you.
"Me looking right down the lens at you, this might feel like a real conversation. Me looking at the picture of you, this might make you feel a little more dislocated from things," he says.
"Eye contact is the signal for who the relationship is between. Your instinctual brain can't read that we have a relationship if there is no eye contact."
A clever tip for glasses wearers is to either take them off or wear contact lenses. The screen reflection off a laptop can entirely break eye contact.
Give yourself some space
The typical video call tends to take place between a pair of talking heads. We line ourselves up in front of our computer, or with our laptop sitting on our laps and then chat away. This removes a lot of the visual data our brain can get from a person's movements.
As Bowden explains "it's all about data" and keeping your webcam zoomed out or sitting further back is going to give more visual data to your caller. This way they can see your hands, which is really important in adding to the video calling experience.
"In this situation I am trying to show my hands more," explains Bowden. "Someone new to you doesn't necessarily relate to you.
"With your boss or your workgroup you need to show more data so they can build a relationship. There is more for the brain to go on."
Open hands means you are interested. The more expressive you are, obviously within reason, the more interested. Keep those palms visible. Closed hands suggests you are withholding and secretive.
Think about your outfit
It doesn't have to be a fashion show, but what you are wearing while video chatting is really important. First impressions count and your appearance makes up a huge part of that. If you want to convey yourself as a laid back person over video chat, then wear something casual.
"The brain judges things by their cover," Bowden confirms. "Here, having a conversation around business, I have put on a shirt and jacket."
If you are going for the more serious, business approach, then look businesslike. Put on a jacket and shirt and see what a difference it makes. Your caller is going to have a mental image of you pretty much embedded into their brain from the moment you answer, so getting that look right at the start is really important.
Chat and nothing else
When speaking to us Bowden chose to use his Android phone for one very good reason.
"When I do these kinds of things on my laptop I start opening my calendar or I start opening documents," he says. "Your brain will default to negatives."
In essence, what your brain doesn't know, it fills with negatives. You need to appear attentive and interested, so if your caller can't see your hands, or if you have a keyboard in front of you, the caller's brain will presume you aren't paying attention.
For those interested in learning more from Mark, his book Winning Body Language is available here